Page last updated at 06:29 GMT, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 07:29 UK

Australian PM speaks out on Tibet

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (file image)
Mr Rudd has already angered Beijing with his stance on Tibet

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has urged Beijing to tackle "significant" human rights problems in Tibet, in a speech in China.

Mr Rudd made the comments to Peking University students at the start of his first official visit to the country.

He said Australia recognised Chinese sovereignty over Tibet but called for dialogue between the two sides.

Meanwhile a group of monks have for the second time interrupted an escorted media visit to the Tibetan plateau.

About 15 Tibetan monks rushed to meet foreign and Chinese journalists at the Labrang monastery in Xiahe, Gansu province, where hundreds of monks rallied on 14 March.

"The Dalai Lama has to come back to Tibet," Reuters news agency quoted one of the monks as saying.

"We are not asking for Tibetan independence, we are just asking for human rights, we have no human rights now."

Protests in and around Tibet erupted last month.

China says about 19 people were killed by Tibetan rioters. Tibetan exile groups say Chinese troops killed dozens of protesters.

Almost 1,000 people had been detained over the protests, a Chinese official announced on Wednesday.

And pro-Tibet demonstrators are targeting the Beijing Olympics to push their cause. The Olympic torch has been met with protests in London and Paris - with more expected in San Francisco later.

'Find a solution'

Mr Rudd is the highest-profile Western leader to visit China since the protests began.

Addressing the students, the prime minister made it clear that he was not calling for a boycott of the Olympic Games.

China says Tibet was always part of its territory
Tibet enjoyed long periods of autonomy before 20th century
1950: China launched a military assault
Opposition to Chinese rule led to a bloody uprising in 1959
Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama fled to India

"I believe the Olympics are important for China's continuing engagement with the world," he said.

But he warned that the situation in Tibet was a matter of concern to Australians.

"Australia, like most other countries, recognises China's sovereignty over Tibet," he said.

"But we also believe it is necessary to recognise there are significant human rights problems in Tibet."

He urged "all parties to avoid violence and find a solution through dialogue".

These words are unlikely to please top Chinese officials - who Mr Rudd is scheduled to meet later in his visit.

The Australian leader has already angered China with similar comments during a visit to the US last month.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said officials had lodged a complaint over remarks Mr Rudd made about Tibet in Washington.

But, says the BBC's James Reynolds in Beijing, the Chinese authorities will want to keep the Australian prime minister as a friend.

Much has been made of the fact that Mr Rudd is a fluent Mandarin speaker, who was once posted to China as a diplomat.

Australia and China are also increasingly important trading partners - and the Olympic torch relay is scheduled to stop in the Australian capital, Canberra, later this month.

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